Before the Frederick Keys started their season in April, infielder Nate Spears's goal was simply to play better than he did last season. With less than a week left in the regular season, Spears has a .296 batting average, 127 hits and 39 RBI -- all improvements from last season -- and he is happy with his progress.

But he's not done, and he doesn't think Frederick, the Baltimore Orioles' Class A affiliate, is either. Currently in first place in the Northern Division of the Carolina League, Frederick is on its way to the playoffs for the first time since 2001, also the last season the Keys finished in first place. After going 35-35 in the first half of the season, the Keys have rattled off a number of winning streaks, including five- and four-game streaks in July, an eight-game streak in August and a current run of seven straight. Frederick (40-24 in the second half of the season) has clinched first place and will host the first game of a three-game series against first-half champion Lynchburg when the playoffs open Sept. 7. The other two games will be in Lynchburg.

Spears is confident the Keys can roll their recent success into a championship run. Manager Bien Figueroa thinks so too.

"They believe they can win everything," Figueroa said. "If they believe they can win the championship, they can do it."

-- Daniel Lyght